Pali Canon

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The Pali Canon, also called the Tipitaka (Pal. tipiṭaka) or “Three Baskets” (of doctrine), is the body of writings of Buddhism that were collected in Pali language.

Subdivisions

The Pali Canon is divided into three major parts:

  1. Vinaya Pitaka (Pal. Vinaya Piṭaka): The Collection of Disciplinary Rules
  2. Sutta Pitaka (Pal. Sutta Piṭaka): The Collection of the Buddha’s Discourses
  3. Abhidhamma Pitaka (Pal. Abhidhamma Piṭaka): The Collection of Philosophical Treatises

1. The Vinaya Pitaka

The Vinaya Pitaka is a collection of texts concerning the rules of conduct governing the daily affairs within the Sangha—the community of bhikkhus (ordained monks) and bhikkhunis (ordained nuns). Far more than merely a list of rules, the Vinaya Pitaka also includes the stories behind the origin of each rule, providing a detailed account of the Buddha's solution to the question of how to maintain communal harmony within a large and diverse spiritual community.

It contains:

  1. Sutta Vibhaṅga
  2. Khandhaka, subdivided into Mahāvagga and Cūḷavagga
  3. Parivāra, summaries and classification of the rules of the Vinaya arranged for instruction and examination purposes.

2. Sutta Pitaka

The Sutta Pitaka, the second main division of the Tipitaka, is divided into five sections or collections (Nikāyas) of discourses (suttas).

A. Dīgha Nikāya - the "long collection"
B. Majjhima Nikāya - the "middle-length collection"
C. Saṃyutta Nikāya - the "grouped collection"
D. Aṅguttara Nikāya - the "further-factored collection"
E. Khuddaka Nikāya - the "collection of little texts"

A. Dīgha Nikāya

The Collection of Long Discourses is arranged in three vaggas or sections:

  • Sīlakkhanda Vagga - the Division Concerning Morality (13 suttas)
  • Mahā Vagga - The Large Division (10 suttas)
  • Pāṭika Vagga - The Patika Division (11 suttas)

B. Majjhima Nikāya

This division consists of 152 suttas of medium length arranged in 15 vaggas, roughly classified according to subject matter.

  • Mūlapariyāya Vagga
  • Sīhanāda Vagga
  • Tatiya Vagga
  • Mahāyamaka Vagga
  • Cūḷayamaka Vagga
  • Gahapati Vagga
  • Bhikkhu Vagga
  • Paribbājaka Vagga
  • Rāja Vagga
  • Brāhmaṇa Vagga
  • Devadaha Vagga
  • Amupada Vagga
  • Sunnata Vagga
  • Vibhaṅga Vagga
  • Saḷāyatana Vagga

C. Saṃyutta Nikāya

This is the “grouped” or “connected” series of suttas which either deal with a specific doctrine or devolve on a particular personality. There are fifty-six saṃyuttas divided into five vaggas containing 2,889 suttas.

  • Sagātha Vagga
  • Nidāna Vagga
  • Khandha Vagga
  • Saḷāyatana Vagga
  • Mahā Vagga

D. Aṅguttara Nikāya

In the Aṅguttara Nikāya, the division is a purely numerical one. There are eleven classified groups (nipātas), the subject of the first being single items, followed by groups of two items, and so on, to the final group of eleven items. Each nipāta is divided into vaggas, each of which contains ten or more suttas, there being 2,308 suttas in all.

E. Khuddaka Nikāya

This is the division of the shorter books of the Sutta Piṭaka, the “Division of Small Books,” as Buddhaghosa called it. This Nikāya appears to have grown up generally after the older Nikāyas were closed and probably was incorporated into the Canon later. There are fifteen main divisions.

3. Abhidhamma Pitaka

The Abhidhamma Piṭaka is the third main division of the Pali Canon. It consists of seven works which are systematic expositions of the doctrine from a strict philosophical point of view. They deal especially with the psychological analysis of phenomenal existence.

Further Reading

  • An Analysis of the Pali Canon, Russell Webb, ed. (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1975). An indispensable "roadmap" and outline of the Pali canon. Contains an excellent index listing suttas by name.

English Translations

  • In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon, edited and introduced by Bhikkhu Bodhi, published by Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-491-1
  • The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, a translation of the Majjhima Nikāya by Bhikkhu Nanamoli & Bhikkhu Bodhi, published by Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-o72-X
  • The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, a translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi, published by Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-331-1
  • Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: An Anthology of Suttas from the Anguttara Nikaya translated byNyanaponika Thera & Bhikkhu Bodhi, published by Yale University Press, ISBN-13: 978-0300165203
  • A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, originally translated by Mahathera Narada, revised by Bhikkhu Bodhi, published by Pariyatti Publishing, ISBN 978 – 1- 928706-02-1
  • Great Discourse on Causation: Mahanidana Sutta and Its Commentaries, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi, published by Buddhist Publication Society, Sri Lanka , ISBN-10: 9552401178
  • The Discourse on the Root of Existence: Mulapariyaya Sutta and Its Commentaries, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi, published by Buddhist Publication Society, ISBN-10: 9552400643
  • Discourse on the All Embracing Net of Views: Brahmajala Sutta and Its Commentaries, translated by Bhikkhu Bodh, published by Buddhist Publication Society

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